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5 How Negativity and Emotional Appeals in Ads Matter I N OCTOBER 2007, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney launched an ad in Iowa in which he looked viewers in the eye and talked about the threat posed to the United States by “jihadism .” He described “a violent, radical, Islamic fundamentalism” whose goal was to “unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate” by working to “collapse freedom-loving nations like us.” The threat described by Romney is a scary one for most Americans, and his language is quite emotionally charged. Yet under the most common scheme used to categorize the tone of political ads, Romney’s ad would be considered a positive one because it makes no mention of his opponents for the Republican nomination. The following month, the Democratic candidate John Edwards aired an ad in New Hampshire that began with him proclaiming to the viewer: “This system is corrupt. And it’s rigged. And it’s rigged against you.” It is certainly a bit startling to hear those lines introduce a political ad, and it is a proclamation that might even make some viewers angry or upset. Yet Edwards does not mention any of his Democratic opponents for the nomination, and so again the ad would be considered a positive one by almost any coding scheme. These two examples of political ads serve to make an important point about the content and categorization of political ads. Namely, 80 Î Chapter 5 there is considerable variation across “positive” ads—and across “negative ” ads, for that matter. Positive ads do not necessarily invoke happy thoughts, and sometimes they may even serve to elicit downright negative emotions among viewers, such as fear or anger. Is it appropriate, then, to lump together an upbeat ad in which a candidate speaks of his “family values” with one that speaks of a jihadist threat to America? A wealth of studies have examined the specific impact of negative advertising on persuasion, but, as we showed in Chapter 2, the findings are often conflicting, with some suggesting that negativity has its intended impact and others suggesting that advertising leads to a backlash against the sponsor. Our premise in this chapter is that to understand the influence of political advertising, one may need to move beyond the traditional categorization of ads as positive or negative to consider the specific emotions that they elicit. Indeed, political scientists increasingly have begun to question the typical positive–negative categorization of political advertising. Many, for example, have suggested adding a third category: the contrast ad (Jamieson, Waldman, and Sherr 2000). We adopt that approach in this chapter, distinguishing between ads that only mention an opponent and ads that compare the sponsor with the opponent. Others have proposed different categorizations altogether (ones we do not consider here), such as whether the ad could be considered mudslinging or not (Kahn and Kenney 1999), whether the ad is fair (Lawton and Freedman 2001), whether the ad is uncivil (Brooks and Geer 2007; Fridkin and Kenney 2008), and whether the ad is relevant to the election (Fridkin and Kenney 2008). One characteristic that has not been studied much, however, is the specific emotional appeals that an ad contains. This is curious given that political scientists increasingly have been turning to emotion as an integral part of explanations of behavior. And as attention to emotions has increased, political scientists have developed new theories of political behavior in which emotion is central (Brader 2006; Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen 2000). In light of this developing literature, we ask whether coding several specific emotional appeals contained within political advertising can provide better explanations for how political advertising influences voters’ choices than can a traditional tone-based approach. How Negativity and Emotional Appeals in Ads Matter D 81 The Timing and Frequency of Negativity and Emotional Appeals Of course, if emotional appeals are to have an impact on voters, they must be present in the campaign. Our data reveal, first and foremost, that emotional appeals not only are present in political advertising but are widespread. For this chapter, we supplemented the Wisconsin Advertising Project’s coding with coding of our own about the emotions elicited from each ad aired in 2004. Our investigation of the impact of emotions focuses solely on 2004, as we do not have access to the video versions of ads from 2000.1 When we broaden our analysis later in the chapter to the impact of tone on voting choice, we are able to examine 2000...


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